Fading accomplishments and staying happy

During college, I ended up changing my primary instrument from flute to trombone, taking two extra years to complete my degree because I needed to be proficient enough on the trombone to pass a jury or a recital.

With all of the metaphorical sweat equity that went into becoming competent, there was no way I was going to settle for a jury, to perform only for a panel of a few faculty members. I focused and worked until my private teacher said I could give a recital.

Sunday, April 18, 1999—a date I don’t need to look up. I still remember details: getting ready in the green room, standing offstage waiting to make my first entrance, walking onto the stage. Most of all, I remember the high I had walking off the stage at the end. Mingling at the reception afterwards. Hanging with friends at my apartment that night. High as a kite that I did it!

It remains the accomplishment I have the most pride in, easily the hardest thing I’ve done (parenting excluded—different metrics for measuring that; not comparable). For a long time, I had a poster-sized collage I’d made with the program, some photos, a couple of cards given to me. It hung in prominent places. Then it hung in less prominent places. Now, it’s not hanging at all.

Tied for second on my pride-in-accomplishment list are completing my first triathlon and getting National Board Certified in one pass, both in 2009, ten years after my recital.

With only a mile left to run, I was teary at being able to complete this little triathlon (little in the world of triathlon; big in the world of “I would/could never swim-bike-run”). I crossed the finish line to a cheering squad in matching T-shirts.

Today, none of my tri paraphernalia is still on display except for the race medal. It’s hanging along with all of my race medals, no distinction between that one and any other.

National Board Certification at the time was an intense one-year process, comprised primarily of four portfolio entries, three of which required video footage of me teaching. It was difficult and time-consuming, not something to take on if you had anything else going on that year—except, I guess, a triathlon—and only a third of candidates in my subject area achieved certification in their first try.

The portfolio was due in late March; the last tests were administered in June. In November, we received results. It was a long five months of waiting.

The morning that results were to be posted, I logged in as soon as I got up. No result. Started to get ready for work. Checked again. Nothing. Continued to get ready. Checked again. Saw the message: congratulations!

I screamed and ran around the house. I scared the dog. I would have woken the kids, if there had been any at the time. Fortunately, The Tall Daddy knew I was looking for my results that morning so knew what caused the pandemonium.

My certificate that once was displayed in my classroom is in a box somewhere, the credential expired.

For any of these three scenarios—some of the peak experiences in my life—if I close my eyes and put myself back there, in the moment, I get teary. But most of the time, they’re just (“just”) part of my story, some things that have happened along the way.

They were pretty amazing, and I moved on.

If big things like these get so easily folded in, little things hardly stand a chance.

But they do. And they matter.

I remember specific kindnesses from people throughout my life. Comments people made during unpleasant situations. Gifts people gave when I was in a position of need. Invitations. Cards. Enthusiasm. Space to be me. I have multiple examples of each of those thoughts, and as I sit writing this, I am overwhelmed by people’s kindness.

Pursue the big things occasionally. Not one right after the other—they’re highlights, not a lifestyle. Marinate in accomplishment … then move on and take a break.

The little things are what keeps us afloat. Give kindness generously and often. It doesn’t need to cost money. Your relationship to the recipient is irrelevant (aside from inappropriate intimacy). Words are important, especially in an era without hugs. Accept others’ kindness. Marinate in that, too.

Several years ago, I made up Compliment Day, and I posted on people’s social media and sent texts, giving people compliments and encouraging them to do the same for others.

Make today Compliment Day (no matter what day you’re reading this). Pick out a handful of people and pay them a compliment of something you admire about them, whether a quality about them or the way they handled a situation. If it makes it less weird, blame it on me and tell them it’s Compliment Day, a day I made up that you’ve chosen to participate in.

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